One quintessential symptom that people generally associate with Alzheimer’s is wandering. Maybe not people, just me? It has been one of my fears since I heard my mom’s diagnosis years ago. She lived in another state at that juncture. When we did move her to our home, the fear of wandering loomed. I felt moving her here, settling her before the disease advanced, that she might be able to recall her surrounds easier, later. (It doesn’t hurt that my family lives on the same street that I lived on during elementary school. Hopefully there are older location memories buried for her to rely on down the road.)
My boys will tell you we have all gone on “Granny Hunts” too many times to remember. Usually, we find her weeding under a bush. Sorting the recycling on the side of the house. Occasionally she has been found in the street cleaning debris out of the neighbor’s gutter. She immediately tells us she isn’t lost. We just didn’t know where she was!
My mom heckles me about my fear of her wandering. Seriously- that is messed up!
She wandered into the neighbor’s construction zone to clean it up – construction debris! Sorting bricks and fasteners that she felt could be reused. As they were tearing down the original structure and leveling the property including two gardens, my mom tried to dig up flower bulbs. Knowing that for years there has been poison ivy in that bed, I repeatedly told her that I didn’t want the bulbs or the poison ivy in our yard. She continued to clean the rocks and roots out of the bed in order to salvage bulbs. (Yes, heavy construction equipment was in use near her – in her words, “That doesn’t bother me.” Yeah, not the point mom!)
You will NEVER guess what happens next – we went to the doctor. YEP, poison ivy ALL over her legs. It was spreading and causing intense swelling. Doctor told her to keep off of her legs for a couple days. Once home, I got her settled on the couch, medicated and elevated her legs and applied ice. Fifteen minutes later I came back to check on her, neither she nor her puppy were in the house.
My first response was – “You must be kidding me!” Followed by a few expletives. The inside lap around the house started. Calling out granny’s name. Then a lap around the outside of the house. Ok, are we just passing each other? Hearing me still calling “Granny”, John and Jake both start searching. Then neighbors from the westside joined the search. The construction neighbors pulled up their camera feed, looking for a clue. Panic rising in my stomach. I grab my keys, everyone had a zone they concentrated on, I drove around the block, window down – yelling my mom’s name.
I had made it down one block and started up the side street. I pulled into the cul de sac. In the far corner on a front step, my mom and her dog sat with the home owners. A moment of relief. As I pulled up in front of the house, my neighbor came hustling through the wooded area from the adjoining properties. My mom responded to her immediately! They engaged in brief conversation. My mom played it as if she was tired from her walk. A walk that initiated because she was following the puppy. Mom seemed confused as to why we were both approaching her. She introduced the home owners as “new friends.” Both husband and wife sat on their front step, they nodded quietly. Granny lifted her wrist showing them, her Alzheimer’s medical bracelet with my phone number on the back. Their faces expressed concern and patience.
I lifted the puppy and asked mom to come to the car with me. Gently informing her, many people were looking for her. My neighbor asked if she knew where home was. Granny only indicated a direction and that she knew what the house looked like. (You can not see our home or property from where we were.) Her direction was correct. She had never been through the wooded adjoining property – I had never been through the wooded property and have lived next to it for 15 years!
Once I had her and the puppy safely in the car, I was so shaken I fell silent. I texted everyone that we had found her. She was safe and sound. We drove the block and a half home. On the couch she had left initially, I settled her with a beverage and elevated her leg. Puppy in her lap. I probably did something I wasn’t supposed to do at this point, I told her how scared we all were. She insisted she only followed the puppy. That is an entirely different discussion. The dog was to be on a leash!! “I know, but…” ( I didn’t remember because I have dementia, duh).
We have an alarm system on the house, the doors set off a beep when opened. However, there is no signal when they are already open, as in this case. A beautiful day, screen doors allowing the breeze in. Now my husband and I revisited a conversation. What else do we do? Exterior cameras? Is this the beginning of wandering? The watch didn’t work for her – we could trace her if she had the watch on. Her phone, if she carried it religiously, we could track her that way. (It is currently dead and in an unidentified location). I have the tracking dots (Tiles) on multiple items as well, but what could I put it on that she would always have with her?
We are lucky that our neighbors are such dear friends and have taken an interest in protecting my mom. It isn’t the easiest thing to share and it frightens some people, but we felt it necessary that all our neighbors knew the situation.
We decided that we will be investing in exterior cameras very shortly. I didn’t even know which direction to go search today. I need some sense of security and a feeling that mom is safe.
I know this is far from the worst situation. So many families and caregivers have witnessed wandering to a much greater extent. My heart goes out to you. This incident frightened me in a way I can not put into words. How did I lose my mom?! Well we know I didn’t. However, the balance between her autonomy and safety is a fine line that I tread each day.
So in review, in order to “follow” my mom we have implemented several solutions:
- whole house alarm system
- cell phone (for tracking and calling)
- smart watch (for tracking and calling)
- Tile (tracking dots)
- extended hour caregivers (not family members)
- neighbors exterior cameras (a bonus used to track direction)
- exterior cameras (coming soon)
As the need changed, our solution changes. Each option was successfully implemented until the day it no longer met our needs. I know we have not hit “real” wandering. Maybe we won’t. God bless you if you are dealing with any of this. And heck – if you have a solution or awesome suggestion, please share.
Thank you for being here with me,
Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.Dalai Lama